‘America’s Next Top Model’ actor shines a light on deaf community
On Tuesday, the Reeve Union Board hosted American model, actor and deaf advocate Nyle DiMarco. At his event, he moderated a conversation about Deaf Abilities.
Denise Clark, a UW Oshkosh professor of special education and early childhood, said she thinks the event is critical for representation on campus.
“Representation matters, and when it comes to deaf people, there’s no visible difference,” Clark said. “People often don’t realize there is a deaf community. Having such a great Deaf role model, especially for young people, coming to campus is a spotlight on this community. »
If you’re not familiar with DiMarco, he played the role of Garrett Banducci in “Switched at Birth”” in 2014-2015. In 2015, he took another step towards stardom by winning “America’s Next Top Model”, the first deaf man to do so.
Speaking about his time on “America’s Next Top Model,” he recalled how isolating it can be and compared it to growing up at a New York public school for the deaf. He discussed the need for funding and creating spaces for deaf people, where they can freely sign and communicate within their own community, and the detriment of students when this environment is non-existent. He remembers that he was constantly made to wear a bulky hearing aid, which he often lost on purpose.
He began to compare it to his on-set experiences, receiving little to no support until production found he suffered from a lack of on-set community. Due to their observations, he was given a phone to communicate with, something no one else had access to. However, it even showed how difficult it was to be treated as equals. Indeed, at one point, another contestant took out his phone to post selfies.
“It was my only form of communication and they used it to take selfies,” he said. “They didn’t see me as a human being, as needing to be or even able to communicate with others.”
The win catapulted him into the spotlight, allowing him greater representation in the deaf community by appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.””
During “Dancing with the Stars”, he still faced challenges; after all, how to move without knowing the rhythms and the music? He took that stigma head-on through hard work, and after several rounds of competition, his teammate had an idea. By using loud music, Nyle could better feel the vibrations of sounds; however, it ruined their performance in practice.
“I understand rhythm differently,” he said. “She was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken between us.”
This formulated a new idea to Nyle where he invited the audience into his world as he danced. During the performance of “Victorious” by “Panic! At the Disco,” he turned off the music, and in doing so, he allowed the audience to step into his shoes for his performance.
With this attention generated for both himself and the deaf community, he became sexually fluid. In doing so, he took a step towards the intersectionality of the two communities, a move that Clark says opened doors between the two communities.
“The LGBTQIA+ community and the deaf community have experienced a lot of bigotry and isolation in the wider community,” she said. “This intersection is not a community that has had a lot of visibility. he therefore initiates dialogues between and about the two communities.
DiMarco has also represented the deaf community through the production of television shows, “Deaf U” and “Audible”. Both of these shows are available on Netflix and focus on college and high school students navigating their hearing-impaired status in a hearing-driven world. “Deaf U” also takes a step into deaf culture by showing Gallaudet University. A place Dr. Clark calls “a culturally significant place,” as well as DiMarco’s alma mater.
DiMarco’s success is not an exception, but a flower that has been grown to maturity. He was raised in a deaf home that for four generations had nurtured and communicated in ASL, which led DiMarco to recognize that it was a tool he could use to better express himself. He wasn’t the only one to benefit from the cleaning. His brother, Nico, is even able to DJ and dance, but not as well as DiMarco.
DiMarco has used his time on campus to lay out a range of ideas, but the overall message is that deafness is not “a problem to be solved.” For this reason, he closed his discussion by showing the crowd the sign of self-love – an idea he spent the evening defending.
As he showed, it is not the job of the deaf to adapt to a hearing world, but to cultivate a world and a culture of their own.
“About 1.4 billion people suffer from hearing loss,” he said. “We are not a small minority and should not be treated as such.”